It doesn’t adequately satisfy the body’s many complex needs. There’s too much of this or not enough of that and your body will eventually suffer.
One of my nutritional mentors is Will Mitchell of the Merritt Wellness Center in North Austin. His partner and wife, Marlene, recently wrote a post that addressed this issue. I liked it so much that I am going to share it with you:
Worst diets EVER (do not try these at home)
We get a LOT of patients asking about the best diets for weight-loss, health, and better energy.
Is it better to go low-carb? Small and frequent? Plant-based? Paleo? Or do a cleanse?
With so many diets and conflicting advice out there, it’s no wonder people have more questions than answers.
So, instead of going through the same-old “eat this not that” routine, we thought we’d have some fun and highlight what we believe to be 5 of the WORST (and ironically some of the most popular) diets out there.
We’ll cover what we DO like about each of them, followed by where they are lacking in nutrition, practicality, and science-based advice.
We thought so. And our pick for worst diet #1 may surprise you…
Worst Diet EVER #1: The Paleo Diet
Yes. You read right.
As much as I go on about the nutrient-dense, ideal diets of paleolithic man, we are not 100% on-board with a PURE Paleo Diet approach.
I’ll explain why in just a minute, but let’s start out with what we DO like about Paleo:
What we like about The Paleo Diet
- It’s generally low-carb—and we like that it discourages consumption of grains and refined sugar.
- It stresses the importance of pasture-raised meats and wild-caught fish.
- It encourages plenty of fresh vegetables and whole foods.
- Emphasis on healthy saturated fats—like coconut oil.
- Dairy restrictions—because a LOT of people are sensitive to dairy products.
What we don’t (usually) recommend a Paleo Diet
- Everyone seems to think that “Paleo” means “EAT MORE BACON!” Which it does not.
- Not enough emphasis on cultured foods—regular consumption of cultured foods like sauerkraut, yogurt (from pasture-raised cows), and real pickles is essential to building a robust immune system and optimizing gut health.
- Depending on what you read, some Paleo diets only talk about lean meats—and neglect the essential nutrients found in healthy animal fats and organ meats.
- Too many nuts—nuts DO make a nutritious snack…in modest quantities. But when you add up the amount of almond flour, nut milks, and nut butters in a typical “Paleo diet” you end up with too many omega-6 fats which will actually cause inflammation.
- Too high in protein—protein is essential to good health, but too much animal-based protein can lead to weight-gain and other health issues.
Bottom line: A Paleo Diet does a great job helping people avoid processed foods, grains, sugar, and dairy but you need to eat more vegetables and less bacon 🙂
Worst Diet Ever #2: The Raw Foods Diet
Raw food provides a wealth of enzymes, nutrients, and fiber…but it shouldn’t be your ONLY source of food. Here’s why:
What we like about The Raw Foods Diet:
- Emphasis on fresh, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and sprouted nuts and seeds.
- The grains consumed are sprouted, which reduces anti-nutrients and increases nutrition.
- Focus on seasonal ingredients.
- No refined sugar or carbs.
- Offers creative techniques and recipes to help you eat more fresh foods.
Why we don’t recommend The Raw Foods Diet:
- A traditional raw food diet didn’t mean just raw vegetables and fruit — all cultures included raw protein, whether that was raw dairy, beef carpaccio, sushi, raw oysters, raw eggs, etc. Nowadays people think it just means raw and vegetarian, which isn’t correct.
- Heavy on the fruit—which means you get too much fructose and sugar in your diet.
- Can be carb-heavy—which disrupts insulin, hormonal balance, and thwarts weight-loss.
- Too much raw food is actually hard to digest—too much fiber from raw food can do a number on your digestion leading to weak digestive function.
- Too many nuts = too many inflammatory omega 6 fats.
- Not near enough complete protein, B12, or zinc—unless you’re somehow eating raw meat, this diet is deficient in these essential nutrients.
- Too much work/unsustainable long-term—unless you have a live-in chef, this diet requires a TON of work, skills, and special equipment…not to mention the social isolation that can come from such a restrictive diet.
Bottom line: I could see this working as a cleanse-type diet for a few days, but that’s it…and there are better cleanses to choose from.
Long-term it’s not nutritionally or practically sustainable.
Worst Diet #3: The Acid/Alkaline Diet
This diet has been around FOREVER but has gained newfound popularity as more research surfaces about the role foods play in inflammation.
Here’s our take on why you should skip it…even if you’re worried about inflammation.
What we like about The Acid/Alkaline Diet
- Strong emphasis on vegetables and whole foods.
- No over-emphasis on protein…a lot of people eat too much protein.
- Emphasis on healthy fats.
- Sugar and refined carbs are discouraged.
Why we don’t recommend The Acid/Alkaline Diet
- The basic premises/science is flawed—the idea that an acidic body causes disease is simply not true. Why? Different parts of our bodies are meant to be acidic…like your stomach for example must be highly acidic to digest food properly. So making a blanket statement like that is untrue and misleading.
- “Acidic” foods, based on pH, doesn’t make sense — how do you explain lemons? Or apple cider vinegar?
- Meats are discouraged— but there’s no distinction between grass-fed meats (especially pasture-raised and organ meats) which are loaded with alkaline minerals, and conventional factory-farmed meats, that ARE mineral deficient. And liver? Super mineral dense.
- Too many grains, too many carbs.
- Too much soy—soy is considered “alkaline” and therefore OK to eat. We could not disagree more as soy is full of anti-nutrients and hormone-mimicking compounds. See our previous award-winning article for more details.
It makes more sense to think about an alkaline diet as one that has many “mineral-dense” foods. This means lots of vegetables, and avoiding sugar (which causes you to lose minerals).
Worst Diet #4: Weight Watchers
I know, I know if Oprah’s doing it it MUST work. And it does…and it doesn’t, learn why.
What we like about Weight Watchers
- It provides a reasonable portion-control system.
- Great community support.
- Easy to follow.
- It can work well for weight-loss.
Why we don’t recommend Weight Watchers
- No foods are excluded—including disease-causing processed foods, sugars, fats, etc. The over all emphasis is on eating low-fat, which has been proven time and time again to not be effective long term for weight OR health.
- The points system is misleading and doesn’t work well for nutrient-dense foods—for example, you might be tempted to avoid such nutrient-dense superfoods as pasture-raised butter or coconut oil because they have a high points value. Whereas a low-fat, sugary, low-calorie dessert looks better on the points scale.
- It encourages consumption of processed foods—yes, you can apply the points scale to a whole foods diet, but you will still be bombarded with promos and recipes for fake diet/low-calorie-foods which may thwart your efforts to eat REAL, nutrient-dense foods.
Bottom line: though Weight Watchers may offer a good starting point for weight loss, it isn’t conducive to a sustainable real foods, low-carb, nutrient-dense lifestyle.
Worst Diet #5: The Vegan Diet
This is another diet that’s making a comeback…to the nutritional peril of many. Here’s the scoop…
What we like about The Vegan Diet:
- The ethics—we are anti-animal cruelty too, we oppose the horror of confined animal feeding operations and truly believe in a more eco-conscious way of feeding our planet.
- The emphasis on vegetables and whole foods.
Why we don’t recommend The Vegan Diet
- It’s nutritionally incomplete—I can’t tell you how many vegans and vegetarians I have counseled through the years who have anemia, B12 deficiency, zinc deficiency and a host of other crippling nutrient deficits. These can be tricky to overcome for vegetarians, but even MORE SO for vegans.
- It’s high in carbs—too many vegans tend to replace meat with carbs which leads them down a nutritionally-compromised path.
- Not enough protein—there is simply no way to get enough essential amino acids with ZERO animal products in the diet. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.
- Not enough B12—this can lead to poor memory, premature gray hair, low energy, chronic fatigue, heart problems, and pernicious anemia.
- Not enough iron—this gets dangerous if left too long and can lead to fatigue, fainting, and heart disease.
- Likely to cause sugar cravings—vegans/vegetarians often joke about how much they LOVE desserts. That’s because if you’re not getting enough protein your body will CRAVE sugar…which leaches more minerals and sends you in a downward health spiral.
- No traditional culture on record ever ate a totally vegan diet—which should tell us something about the importance of animal foods to our survival and health. In fact, without supplements, a vegan would ultimately die of nutritional deficiencies!
Bottom line: though the ethics of “going vegan” are commendable, the nutritional value of the diet just doesn’t add up to good health.
It can also be argued, as it is in the book “The Vegetarian Myth” that giving up animal foods doesn’t actually help the planet that much…but supporting sustainable, humane farmers does.
What diet DO we recommend?
You can check out our previous articles and Pinterest board to find out more about our low-carb, nutrient-dense, REAL approach to nutrition. We don’t believe in “diets” 🙂
Merritt Wellness Center
These are smart, ethical people who care deeply, as I do, about educating their patients and setting them on a path towards optimal health. They hold classes and offer nutritional counseling and acupuncture.
The scoop: Eat Real Food. The less processed, the better. The shorter the distance from the farm to your table, the better. The less food engineering, the better. The less sprayed, the better. Sometimes I tell people to eat what their grandparents ate. Let’s call it the “Grandparent Diet”. This, I can recommend.
I realize that when Crisco came along and margarine was idolized, it marked the beginning of the fake-food epidemic. Many detrimental changes and health-destroying products have followed, marketed as a convenient alternative to Real Food. So if it’s too convenient, it’s probably not awesome for you. And you may have to go back to your great-grandparents to know what you should be eating 😮